Lance Foster (hengruh) wrote,
Lance Foster

The Little People and the Giants in Western Montana

An extract from The Flathead Indians of Montana, by Harry Holbert Turney-High. Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association. Contributions from Montana State University [now the University of Montana, Missoula, MT]. Number 48, 1937. Supplement to American Anthropologist, Volume 39, No. 4, Part 3.

(p. 13)


Because they preceded the Flathead into these mountain valleys the Kalispel maintain that they are the true lords of the land, although they do not have the temerity to claim to be the original autochthonous inhabitants. They admit that when they themselves came from a land far to the west they found the country occupied by other peoples, some possessing great supernatural powers, others who had great strength and intelligence but were nevertheless classifiable as human rather than superhuman. In addition to these there was a race of just plain Indians, stupid, ignorant, and inferior. In all of these points the Kalispel and Flathead agree. Then, of course, there were the traditional pre-Flathead tribes who have been discussed elsewhere.


The true autochthonous inhabitants of the country were a race of dwarfs, persons who look very much like Indians except for their very dark skins and their diminutive stature of about two feet and one-half to three feet. The Little People were not originally a supernatural race, but were tiny Indians who had remarkable powers. The dwarfs had every element of material culture which the Indians ever knew or have discovered so far, for they had every element of white civilization. They owned herds of domestic animals which measured about three feet high. The grandparents of the oldest Indians insist that these were a type of horse, very tiny and invariably a glistening black. When the dwarfs disappeared from ordinary life their "horses" disappeared with them, so that regular Indians never knew that animal until it was acquired from the Mountain Snakes [Shoshoni]. The dwarfs did not ride these animals nor burden them with packs. “They just kept them around.” When food ran short during the winters, however, the dwarfs butchered these “horses”and ate them.

With the coming of humans in the ordinary sense the dwarfs were crowded into the highest mountains. Some think that they died out completely from life as people live it. They are thought to sleep in old volcanic craters during the day, or rather they are thought to be actually dead during the daylight hours, to arise at night to carouse and dance. During the ages of this kind of rest they have acquired an enormous amount of “medicine.” The Indian or shaman who acquires a dwarf for a personal guardian is unusually fortunate, and to this day the old craters are favorite places of retirement when a guardian is sought. Flathead were very careful to speak respectfully of these original inhabitants of the land.

The second fabulous race which preceded the Indians was the giants. Fully half of the Flathead stories deal with these giants and easily two-

(p. 14)

thirds mention them. They bad terrific strength; could twist off the neck a powerful warrior without effort. Thev could do many things which ordinary people could not do, but this was attributed to their remarkable skill and unusual intelligence, rather than to any magic power they might have possessed. They wore no clothes but had heavy coats of fur.

The relations of Indians and giants was largely one of indifference and mutual avoidance. At times the giants would elect to be friendly, willingly coming to the aid of Flathead who might need them. One informant tells of a woman who was consistently abused by her husband. One time he beat her so badly that she was bruised all over and many of her bones broken. She was left lying on the grass in great pain, unable to move, and well-nigh dying. A giant came by and offered his sympathy and help. It is said that the giants were remarkably adept in medicine, so that when the woman's husband returned a few days later the wife was entirely well. The kindly giant remained to give him a severe reprimand, then departed. It must be noted that this cure was due to the giant's great intelligence and skill as a leech [medic]. It is denied that they had supernatural curative power or “medicine.”

Giants sometimes interfered with the affairs of men in a most unfriendly manner. Sometimes they would dash from behind a tree and laughingly mash a human just to exhibit their strength. “They were taller than the roof of this house,” said one informant, “and they were strong even for their size. Once a man was thrown clear over Mt. Sentinel from Pattee Canyon into the Missoula River on the other side by a giant who just wanted to show off.”

On the other hand Indians were not above playing spiteful tricks on the giants, although their efforts usually failed. Once a small hunting party came upon a giant sound asleep in the woods. The hunters decided to capture him, and taking all of their bison hair ropes, made him fast with the strongest knots. Then all the men sat on the giant's chest and beat him with bows until he awakened. The captive, seeing his predicament, emitted a thunderous laugh, burst his bonds, and sent his opponents flying through the air by his violent rise to his feet. Piqued by his treatment he grabbed one of the Salish by the ankle and, swinging him thereby, tossed him clear across the Missoula River so that be hit against the face of a cliff not far from Forest Grove, which forthwith killed him.

The greatest of all the giants was a more or less kindly disposed fellow named Papagelpels’ cin, "Light-from-smooth-horns." At least this is what the giant called himself when questioned by people. He was the largest and most intelligent giant of them all.

The human character of the giants is exhibited by the fact that, despite their strength and intelligence, they knew hunger, maiming, and death.

(p. 15)

Both the giants and the dwarfs were perfectly visible to the human eye, but since they were shy and very clever about avoiding people they were seldom seen. There was a race of invisible beings, skusku' caske, who were mightily feared. While the dwarfs, as will be seen later, had all the material culture known to the white man and many valuable traits besides, the giants lived by hunting just like Indians. They were superior hunters because they were strong and “smart,”not because of better equipment.

Like the Little People, the giants are definitely thought to have been pre-Salishan inhabitants. They spoke a gibberish not understood by the Salish, although some giants could speak Salishan when they chose. It is thought that their numbers gradually diminished because of competition with the Indians. “We just got them outnumbered in time,” one informant said, “so that there wasn't enough game around for them, as they were so big.” The complete extinction of giants is thought to have been of recent date. One Kalispel reputed to be over ninety claims to have seen one. Her father was Chief Alexander who negotiated the first treaty with the white government. Because of white inspiration he tried farming, and in consequence had a small barn with a hay loft. The informant says that when she was a very small girl a man over fifteen feet high came to the house one night when all the men were away and asked for food. He was so hungry he ate everything they had, and with permission slept in the hay-mow. When morning came the frightened women went to hunt for him with food, but he had gone. She says that she remembers distinctly that the giant wore grass sandals. [italics in original]
Tags: bigfoot, flathead, giants, helena, little people, montana, salish

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